The Message of the Shabbat Candles: A Blazing Warmth in the Midst of Darkness
Shabbat candles are kind of a classic when it comes to traditions that go way way back. Originally, they served a practical purpose — the Torah forbids Jews from kindling fire on Shabbat, so lighting candles on Friday night just before Shabbat begins allows us to see through the darkness while we eat Shabbat dinner. With the advent of electricity, the background behind the practice has become more and more opaque, but there is beauty in the mystery. The practice itself holds meaning.
Imagine three main “attributes” of a flame. First, a flame gives off light so we can illuminate the darkness. Second, if we stay close to it, a flame can keep us warm. Third, a flame can easily spread to another wick without compromising its own strength; the power of the fire only grows. The Shabbat candles are definitely a way to add a warm, cozy vibe to Shabbat dinner (not to mention a way to appreciate tradition, if that’s your thing), but when we light the Shabbat candles, we can also take time to acknowledge that we each possess a flame inside of us.
This inner flame can give off a light, or a clarity, to see through the “darkness,” the stress and worries of the rest of the week. The Shabbat candles might not be a big fiery lantern, but just as it was in ancient times, even a little bit of light is enough to stave off darkness. Our inner flame can also keep us warm if we keep it close to our hearts, and take the time to be mindful of our worthiness of self-love, and of our ability to love and be kind towards others. When we reach out to one another, whether at a Shabbat dinner or even a text to check in, we are extending to another person warmth that they can easily feel and be comforted by.
The Shabbat candles are also a symbol of our ability to spread our inner flame to a guest at the table, another person who might be struggling with the stress that sometimes overwhelms us during the week. When we come together to engage in something meaningful, we spread light and warmth without diminishing our own inner flame. The more people we reach out to, even a smile in their direction, the more light we bring to our own hearts and minds. Our own inner flame blazes just as strong or even stronger when we kindle another’s. At Shabbat dinner, whether or not we engage in lighting candles, we all have the opportunity to take part in an ancient tradition of kindness and connection, one that just might illuminate the world.